Global Impact meet discusses how businesses, states can overcome COVID-19 damage

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In a context where the coronavirus ( COVID-19) pandemic, raging since the first quarter of 2020, has slowed the progress towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the first Global Impact Conference “Energy for Impact” was held on December 1-2. Sustainable development leaders from around the world discussed new partnerships with a view to develop human capital strategies facilitating steady growth of the global economy.

The conference, held in an online format, was organised by jointly by the Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom, the Moscow-based Higher School of Economics and the US business magazine Forbes. The event, which brought together over 85 experts from 26 countries, representing international businesses, state institutions, and civil society, focused on the contribution of global institutions, corporations and communities to sustainable development.

In his keynote speech, Paul Polman, former Chief Executive Officer of Unilever, co-founder and chair of IMAGINE, an organization accelerating business leadership to achieve the global goals, and co-author of the UN Global Compact, said : “It (COVID-19) is the biggest crisis we have ever seen and many call it the ‘Great Reverser’, with growth going down 4.0-4.5 percent this year, putting us back on the SDGs probably by 10-15 years.”

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) arm Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) Director General William Magwood said that the reliability of nuclear energy is a key driver for achieving the SDGs. “My view is that the Sustainable Development Goals could be achieved if we provide for the expanded use of electric energy around the world”, he said. In his address, Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev noted that people are at the centre of any transformation. “This year has made it perfectly clear for all of us that the future is human-centric. Building global business organisations to unlock the potential of all people, regardless of gender, age and geography calls for cooperative efforts”, Likhachev said.

The panel on “Energy for all” featured Électricité de France (EDF) Chairman and CEO Jean-Bernard Lévy, Rosatom’s Deputy Director General for corporate development and international business Kirill Komarov, as well as the Global Technology Symposium President Alexandra Johnson and Ira Ehrenpreis, a member of the Tesla Motors’ Board of Directors.

Lévy highlighted the responsibility of business for a common global future in the post-COVID world, and said public utilities would be at the heart of social development. He said the established models, whereby fossil fuels contribute to as much as 81 percent of energy production, are no longer sustainable with global warming projected to increase by 1.5 degrees Celsius in the period 2030-50. “We are facing an unprecedented global crisis, and many voices indeed are calling for transformation. These changes will place public utilities and more specifically our own, EDF, at the heart of the social model in the countries where we operate”.

Noting that innovation has helped in providing solutions, the EDF Chairman said that his company has, earlier this year, adopted new articles of association designed to achieve a “net zero” carbon emission future in energy and services. “EDF shareholders can now sue us if we don’t follow our new statutes. This is the role of business in shaping society. We are offering our clients carbon-free electricity, including electric mobility”, Levy said, citing examples countries like Laos and Cameroon where EDF has set up hydroelectric projects.

Speaking about the prospects of an energy future and the role of corporations, Komarov pointed out that with 700 million people globally still living without electricity, nuclear power provides the only source of “stable, affordable, efficient and clean energy.” In this connection, he pointed out Rosatom’s impressive record as a world leader, with 36 nuclear power projects currently in the making in various countries. Russian scientists launched the first nuclear power station, and today, over three quarters of a century later, Rosatom is the leader in terms of the size of its foreign portfolio. The company has the world’s only nuclear icebreaker fleet, the most powerful fast neutron reactor, and contributes to digitalisation as well as nuclear medicine.

Johnson and Ehrenpreis discussed the development of impact investments, with Ehrenpreis noting that clean energy producers demonstrate that environmental protection, social development and corporate governance based on innovation are not only profitable, but they also contribute to sustainable development, transforming people’s lives for the better. Pointing out that energy has historically been an “underserviced” sector, Ehrenpreis also said that impact investment backed by innovation has thrived on the premise of “combining financial return with the greening of the environment.”

One of the outcomes of the event was the “Human: CorpMission” initiative to study the human-centric approach to corporate strategies launched by Rosatom and the Higher School of Economics. The leader of the initiative, the international Research Expert Council, held its inaugural meeting and discussed the talent development drivers of sustainable economic growth. According to an official statement, the Board’s aim is to carry out extensive research and elaborate an index in the field of management strategy transformation in accordance with the SDGs. The first study will be published in December 2020.

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